What I’ve Learned While Being the Boss

What I’ve Learned While Being the Boss

By: Katherine Karr
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If you had told me in high school that I would be the leader of a non-profit organization in just a few short years, I probably would have stopped talking to you. And yet, here I am, a President at age 20.

To be honest, I don’t think a lot of my friends or family who knew  me back then would have disagreed with me either. I was a quiet, awkward child that let everybody push me around and I surrounded myself with people who were louder and more interesting than myself. I carried myself with hesitation, took on only a few secondary roles on sports teams and choir, and became comfortable with being the “shy girl”.

But like many people, university changed me. It became a sort of arena for me to cultivate my interests and leverage assets I hadn’t known were there before, rediscover what I was passionate about and seek new opportunities to grow. I owe the majority of this self-discovery and awareness today to my position as President of AIESEC SFU and here are a few essentials that I learned:

I am not a timid person.

This isn’t to say I’m an extrovert by any means and I will fight to the death with anyone who says introverts can’t be successful -- and even better, in my opinion -- leaders than the charismatic ones we have grown accustomed to seeing. But introverted and shy are very different things. Over the past three years I’ve learned through working with people day in and day out, presenting in front of 60 members on a monthly basis, and leading a team of passionate and focused individuals that I am not afraid to speak my mind.

While I’m not necessarily the first to be noticed, I’m the kind of person that will connect with people through silent smiles in the hallway, attentive listening and lots of friendly nods. And I’ve been known to rally a room with an inspirational speech or two.

My instincts can be trusted.

I think any leader, whether for a non-profit, business, or even a school project, finds a point where their first gut decisions may be challenged. Not necessarily by others, but more likely by their own mind filtering through more logical options and fostering doubt. Which doesn’t mean I don’t think there’s room for logical thinking in decision making, I think it’s very important. It just takes a certain strength of character, self-awareness, and trust to know when your gut is right.

I look back on my year as President, as it creeps ever closer to its close on December 30, 2015 and see that every detrimental mistake that I’ve made - that may have led to a dip in team motivation or lack of activity, has been in some way connected to my lack of authenticity. And so near the end of my term I stand here realizing that decisions that you make should at the very root be because you fundamentally as a person can stand behind them and not because you think they would please those around you (or your own mind).

You need to surround yourself with the right people.

This is one of my favourite things about being involved in volunteer organizations, and to be honest, it’s not a lesson I haven’t been told before. Until I actually began getting involved in the right things, however, I never really understood it.

At the end of the day, we are uniquely us in some way or another. One person might be the best freestyle rapper in the Vancouver area and another might be the best spokesperson for Aboriginal rights. Whatever it is, whatever lights a fire in you, join an association, a charity, a board, whatever it is that has something to do with that one unique thing. Because I promise you, with all my heart, that my decision to join AIESEC, an organization whose core values were so in line with my own, was the right one. It meant that I had a group of thousands of people around the world who were the right people for me. I get to work day to day with like-minded, value driven people who share a common goal and want to have constructive conversations for how we can get closer to changing the world through international exchange. Having those right people, those like-minded people who will challenge you and help you grow for years to come, is what makes a year or decade a memorable one.

My time as a leader in a volunteer and non-profit organization has helped me grow in unthinkable ways. From an awkward teenager who didn’t know her place and didn’t care to define it, to someone who knows who she is, where she wants to go, and how she, as a leader, can help others do the same.  Volunteering for 40 hours a week and working my butt off to keep my marks up at the same time miiiight just seem like the worst idea at first, but maybe, like me, you may just find out who you are in the process. And that is gold.


Image Credit: Andy Chu 

Katherine is a fourth year Communications student who aspires to be a travel writer and take her passion for the written word on the road. She currently sits as Local Committee President 2015 for AIESEC SFU, an international non-profit organization that works to develop leadership in youth through international exchange. Follow Katherine’s travel adventures through her blog.

Posted on October 20, 2015